How Narrative Structure Can Send a Message
Jamaica Kincaid’s Girl communicates strong messages about both society’s expectations of women, and the way that certain things told to someone can have a large impact on them. The piece is written in the form of a continuous list. This style emulates our inner stream of consciousness and emphasizes the many messages expressed in the story and their lasting impact. The narrative form does a lot for the story, creating deeper meaning, and allowing the speaker to connect to readers more effectively.
Kincaid highlights the overbearing expectations of women in society through the story’s list consisting of countless demands. Though it does not directly address who is speaking or giving the orders, they can be interpreted as lessons and cautionary advice given by a mother or mentor figure to a “Girl,” like the one referenced in the title. The list can be seen as the girl’s inner thoughts, as she recalls what has been told to her, the messages running through her mind. The commands are given as guidance and explain standards to the girl, telling her to “always eat your food in such a way that it won’t turn someone else’s stomach,” and to “try to walk like a lady.” The girl acts as a symbol for all girls, and the list of commands can be understood as standards set for all women. With the entire story being a list of such commands, Kincaid stresses how many standards there are for girls and how high the expectations are. The stipulations being rattled off to the girl in such a long list helps Kincaid to make a point about how much pressure is put on girls, suggesting that society can be oppressive to women.
The story itself does not blatantly affirm the speaker’s emotions, but its structure mirrors her thoughts and thus reveals her reaction to all of the pressure exerted on her. The continuous flow of ideas reflects a stream of consciousness, familiar to all readers. Most people can relate to certain things said to them that linger in their mind, sometimes being repeated over and over, like a mother’s advice teaching you “how you set a table for lunch.” The messages that are cemented in our minds and repeated this way are the ones that really mean something to us; they are important lessons we need to remember that have a strong impact on us. Kincaid gives readers a look into the mind of the girl. She doesn’t have to candidly say how the girl feels because she shows what is going on in her mind. As the list that reflects her inner thoughts, Kincaid reveals how deeply impacted the girl is by all of the things she is being told to do. Kincaid shows that these messages are all the girl can think about, and everything said to her has been completely internalized, suggesting that she is completely overwhelmed by it.
By embodying the girl’s inner thoughts, Kincaid is able to connect with her audience on a deeper level. Everyone can relate to the way past conversations repeat in your mind. The tone is also familiar to readers; the many pieces of advice and instructions for everyday life, warning you to be sanitary because “you might catch something” are given in the same voice any parent would use mentoring a child. This familiarity enables Kincaid to more effectively connect with readers, but specific word choice and certain phrases allow her to connect to readers on an even deeper, emotional level. Though some of the messages listed in the story are positive and guiding, others are more accusatory and crude. With all of the messages going through her mind, the girl remembers several demeaning things said to her, like advice given so that people “won’t recognize immediately the slut I have warned you against becoming.” By including messages like this, with vulgar word choice calling the girl a “slut,” Kincaid evokes an emotional reaction from readers, who imagine a mother telling her daughter to “prevent yourself from looking like the slut I know you are.” In doing this Kincaid is able to capture the reader’s attention more, and create a sense of anger through her display of society’s standards for girls. As the list is also compiled of almost all things told to the girl, only two short phrases put in italics represent her own dialogue. The girl replies to two of the instructions given to her. In one of these instances she defends herself when she is accused of singing benna in Sunday school and told not to; she says “but I don’t sing benna on Sundays at all and never in Sunday school.” The two times that the girl replies back are also relatable to readers as they resemble a desperate reply to the messages repeating in her mind; she is talking back. She is only speaking in her thoughts, however, which most people can relate to as a moment when you think back to a conversation and come up with comebacks or words that you wish you said to someone in that conversation. By including these two moments where the girl’s own words are used, Kincaid is able to further connect with readers. The fact that the entire piece represents the thoughts going through the girl’s mind, yet only two short phrases are her own dialogue, where she inwardly defends herself, shows how strongly the instructions and orders stick with her; they are the only things going through her mind. It also suggests a sense of oppression as this is all that matters to her, and she has no voice and no further personal opinions besides the two brief occasions that she uses her own words.
Kincaid uses unique narrative structure to create deeper meaning and to better connect with her readers. By mirroring the speaker’s inner thoughts, she presents the issue of society’s damaging and overbearing standards for women. In showing the way that high expectations and excessive instruction internally impacts girls, she is able to address the problem of society’s oppressive view of women and get readers more engaged in the topic.
Representations of Caribbean Women in “Girl”
Mothers usually have their children’s best interest at heart, guiding them through life at an attempt to prevent offspring from repeating their own mistakes. In the short story, “Girl,” Kincaid depicts her teenage years after her mother gave birth to Kincaid’s three younger brothers in succession. The psychological perspective of this story raises many questions from critics on whether or not the mother’s state of mind and outlook on women altered after she gave birth to her three sons. Kincaid’s story amplifies there is an importance in cultural standards, gender roles and sex, and behaviors among Caribbean women. Throughout the story, the speaker portrays herself to be the mother and gives her daughter advice in several different areas of life, which greatly confuses Kincaid.
According to Kincaid, in the Caribbean culture, there may be more reinforced, strict, and ridged expectations of gender roles. In the story, Kincaid’s Caribbean mother reinforces these ideals by making it clear she is trying to help Kincaid reach this standard which the mother, herself, likely grew up in. The mother makes a mention of her childhood standards by stating: “Wash the white clothes on Monday and put them on the stone heap,” and continues directing her daughter to wash the color clothes on Tuesday and to let them dry on the clothesline (Kincaid 95). One critic, Carol Bailey, also argues “Girl” implies there are certain standards for young Caribbean women. Bailey critiques how the speaker in Kincaid’s story is repetitive when she mentions “the slut you are so bent on becoming.” Carol Bailey explains, “The variations of this expression recur throughout the text and might be one of the seemingly obvious lines that suggests the speaker’s complicity with the system and illustrates her efforts to shape a woman who performs the script of chastity appropriately” (109).
The oppression of gender roles can also restrict a woman’s ability to navigate sex and sexuality. In the text, Kincaid’s mother states her daughter is walking like a “slut” by suggesting: “[O]n Sundays try to walk like a lady and not like the slut you are so bent on becoming” (Kincaid 96). Kelly Falla critiqued this topic by stating, “The mother thinks the daughter has already set herself up for a life of promiscuity. The mother even goes to the extreme of instructing her daughter on ‘how to make medicine to throw away a child before it even becomes a child.’ This is a clear concoction to remedy an unwanted pregnancy” (Falla 3). The repeated shaming of appearance and its link to promiscuity portrays the mother had internalized issues about her own gender’s ability to be sexual. The fact Kincaid’s mother knew about an abortion recipe confirms she may have used it herself before.
Throughout the short story, the young girl does not seem to completely understand her mother’s instructions on how to behave. The daughter reaffirms she does not understand by speaking in the text. She asks: “but what if the baker won’t let me feel the bread?” (96). Kincaid ends the story with the mother’s vague response to her daughter’s question about feeling the bread: “[Y]ou mean to say that after all you are really going to be the kind of woman who the baker won’t let near the bread?” (96). According to Kim Becnel, “The most obvious meaning of the mother’s question is the implication that the girl will, indeed, grow up to be a ‘slut’ and, therefore, due to her lack of virtue, will not be allowed to handle the bread.” Becnel goes on to mention, “It is, however, also possible to interpret it as the mother’s shock that her daughter, whom she has been so certain will grow up to be promiscuous, will, in fact, be such a virtuous and unavailable woman that she will be unable to entice the baker into letting her touch his bread with all the sexual connotations therein implied.”
While it appears there are many possibilities the mother feels could happen to her daughter, the daughter still questions her mother’s true intentions. This leads the mother to be more concerned, implying some of these situations are inevitable. The mother’s interpretation of her daughter’s responses leads her to believe her daughter could be taken advantage of one of these days. The mother’s ideology of cultural standards, gender roles and sex, and behaviors confirms there is an unwritten rule about how Caribbean women should act.
Bailey, Carol. “Performance and The Gendered Body in Jamaica Kincaid’s ‘Girl’ And Oonya Kempadoo’s Buxton Spice.” Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism 10.2 (2010): 106-123. Academic Search Complete. Web. 18 Sept. 2016
Becnel, Kim. “Literary Contexts in Short Stories Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl.” Literary Contexts in Short Stories: Jamaica Kincaid’s ‘Girl’ (2007): 1. Literary Reference Center Plus. Web. 28 Sept. 2016.
Falla, Kelly. “Theme Analysis of “Girl” by Jamaica Kinkaid.” 2011. Microsoft Word file.
Kincaid, Jamica. “Girl.” Portable Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing. Ed. Laurie Kirszner and Stephen Mandell. 9th ed. Boston: 2015. 95-96. Print.
Life’s Personal autonomy and freedom
Most teenagers go through a time when they believe that their parents are too overbearing and strict with them. Although this is a normal feeling to have on occasion growing up, Jamaica Kincaid’s novel Lucy reveals the intense situation of an over-bearing parent. Through the novel, we follow the titular protagonist’s escape from this predicament, and from the miserable life that she is living. Lucy decides to begin a new life in America, away from her family and friends and we read the cyclical story of her experience in her new home. Lucy’s ambition to create a new, independent life in America stems from her need to overcome her melancholy past growing up, nonetheless this desire affects her ability to form connections with the people she meets. Lucy’s toxic relationship with her mother is a major component of why she needed to create such an independent life for herself.
Although it is apparent that Lucy knew her mother loved her, she saw this love as a burden. When Lucy describes her mother’s love she says, “I had come to feel that my mother’s love for me was designed solely to make me into an echo of her; and I didn’t know why, but I felt that I would rather be dead than become just an echo of someone.” (Kincaid 40). She then follows this statement by saying “Thoughts like these had brought me to be sitting on the edge of a Great Lake with a women who wanted to show me her world” (Kincaid 40). Through these quotes we see that Lucy hated the fact that her mother wanted her to be just like her. She also hated the fact that her mother could not grasp why Lucy did not want to be exactly like her, and that is what drove her away. Of course we can see through the novel that Lucy never hated her mother, in fact, deep down she really loved her. This can be seen when Lucy says, “I would hear sounds in our house that made me sure my mother had died and the undertaker had come to take her body away. Each morning when I saw her face again, I trembled inside with joy.” (Kincaid 102). Although we can see that Lucy loved her mother, she believed admitting this to herself would cause her to turn into her mother all together, and never be the independent women she yearned to be. As you can see, throughout Lucy’s upbringing her mother was very overbearing. This causes Lucy to want to live an extremely independent life, which then results in her becoming emotionally detached from all other people.
On the other hand, Lucy does not allow herself to become emotionally attached to the men she meets because of her need to be independent. This idea can be seen in her relationship with Hugh. She repeatedly says she is not in love with Hugh, and that being in love would “complicate her life”. She conspicuously states, “I was only half a year free of some almost unbreakable bonds, and it was not in my heart to make new ones.” (Kincaid 76). Here she is clearly stating that she does not have the desire to create new bonds with others because she was finally free from the old ones. Lucy’s longing for independence is what was holding her back from creating an emotional rather than purely sexual relationship. We can also see this need for autonomy in her relationship with Paul. When describing a photo Paul gave her as a gift she says, “I was naked from the waist up; a piece of cloth, wrapped around me, covered me from the waist down. That was the moment he got the idea he possessed me in a certain way, and that was the moment I grew tired of him” (Kincaid 169). Again here she is showing that she does not want to feel like the possession of someone else. She felt that for so long with her mother back at home, and is trying too hard to escape this emotion. Because of this she does not want anyone to think of her as a possession. Not surprisingly, she keeps Paul around regardless of the fact that she has grown tired of him. She enjoys the pleasures he bring hers, and that is all she focuses on when in a relationship. Evidently, to Lucy, being attached to a man emotionally was the complete opposite of being free. And her main goal when she got to America was to be liberated.
Lucy’s need for independence ultimately carries on to her nonromantic relationships causing saddening results. Her intense fear of being controlled by her mother carries over to her relationship with Mariah. Her views on Mariah changed often, which is why she says, “The times that I loved Mariah it was because she reminded me of my mother. The times that I did not love Mariah it was because she reminded me of my mother” (Kincaid 177). Lucy is so apprehensive that she is going to fall in to another unhealthy relationship with a motherly figure in her life. After everything that happened to her with her mother, it was hard for her to form a bond with Mariah, who happened to be a mother of four.
Ultimately Lucy quitting the job as Mariah’s au per is what she believes the last step to gaining full independence. Due to her lack of emotional connections with others, her life is not exactly how she imagined full freedom to be like. She says, “I was alone in the world. It was not a small accomplishment. I thought I would die doing it. I was not happy” (Kincaid 176). She has been through so much trying to become self-reliant because of her upbringing, this cause her to have no connection with anyone around her. Lucy was all alone in the world. Earlier in the novel Lucy stated that she believed just a “change in venue” would erase everything in life she despised, but that was not how life worked out for her. She could see her current self was taking the shape of her past (Kincaid 97). The book closes with Lucy writing in a diary that Mariah gave her. She picks it up and writes “I wish I could love someone so much that I would die from it”, and then began to cry (Kincaid 178). These being the final lines in the novel shows the reader the isolation and sadness she feels regardless of all the goals she achieved. By the end of the novel we can see how much Lucy really needs human connection and love.
Throughout the novel we watch Lucy try to gain complete independence from her mother, and from her upbringing back home. Her desire for freedom negatively affects her ability to form emotional connections with the people around her. We see this negatively impact her life, and bring her to a full circle of emotions, leaving home to find happiness and freedom, but still feeling helpless and in despair. She is unable to form a relationship that is not solely sexual with a man, and she cannot connect and bond with any women she meets. Ultimately, Lucy teaches the reader that it is important to make emotional connections with others around you, and pure independence and freedom from people may not always be the best thing in life.
Kincaid, Jamaica. Lucy. 1990.
Imperialism and Its Lingering Effects on the People of ‘a Small Place’
In A Small Place, Jamaica Kincaid forces the reader to take on the role of a tourist as she brings them through the town of Antigua, criticising the moral ugliness of tourism and the negative consequences of European Imperialism as she does so. Through her description of the island’s infrastructure and the local’s daily struggles, Kincaid emphasises on the harm colonialism had brought about during its presence in Antigua and the lingering effect it still holds over the nation and its people. While the colonial rulers are long gone, they left behind a political culture of moral corruptness that has caused the country to remain stagnant in its development. By writing in second person, she describes her town from the reader’s point of view, beginning her work with “[i]f you go to Antigua as a tourist, this is what you would see” (3), and in doing so, implicates the reader in the crime of supporting imperialism, directly accusing them of taking part in the colonialism that has robbed her nation of its history and culture.
Kincaid’s description of her town hints at the deep-rooted corruption within the nation’s parliament – inherited from the colonial powers and their exploitation of the island and its people. Kincaid criticises the British for “getting rich [from] the free and then undervalued labour” (9-10), and then leaving this morally unrighteousness aspect of their history out of records, crediting their economical growth to “the ingenuity of small shopkeepers in Sheffield and Yorkshire and Lancashire, or wherever” (10) instead. A British education from the local “Pigott’s School” (7) – an establishment with a British name – with British books that teach the students British history, language and culture but leave out the details of its exploitation of places like Antigua not only strips the citizens of their own identity but also accustoms them to their suppressed and exploited status.
Similarly, the British’s promise of education, progress, and better living standards through colonialism and their actual underlying goal of financial exploitation is reflected in the action of present day Antiguan ministers, who use their position of power to line their own pockets instead of improving the lives of their people. Corruption and moral degeneration exist in every aspect of daily life, and is acknowledged by the people with a general sense of acceptance and lack of outrage. By asking the reader to ignore the “slightly funny feeling [they] get from time to time about exploitation” (10) because “[they] could ruin [their] holiday” (10), Kincaid shows how the daily suffering and hardship faced by the locals are unimportant and ignorable in the face of the tourist’s personal enjoyment – a reflection of the attitude of colonial powers.
Kincaid also criticises the government’s order of priorities through her description of the local infrastructure. She introduces this idea by making the reader question “why a Prime Minister would want an air-port named after him – why not a school, why not a hospital” (1), hinting at how making financial gains through tourism is viewed as more important than improving the quality of life for the locals. This topsy-turvy idea of importance is further developed later on, where the prime location in town is shown to be taken up by the “Government House… the Prime Minister’s Office and the Parliament Building” (10), while the spot with the most scenic view by the American Embassy. It is seen here that despite changes in times, a foreign power still holds more importance in Antigua. Meanwhile, while immigrant traders have the wealth to “lend money to the government” (11) and “build enormous, ugly, concrete buildings in Antigua’s capital” (11), the country’s school, hospital and library have been stagnant since Independence, and locals live in houses that are comparable to latrines. Similarly, the best road in the nation leads to the home of “the girlfriend of somebody very high up in the government” (12), while the second best was “paved for the Queen’s visit” (12). The embodiment of British imperialism is admired by the very same people it suppressed.
Overall, Kincaid illustrates the moral ugliness left behind by colonialism that continues to plague Antigua, criticising the deep-rooted selfish nature of colonial powers that leads to the disregard of local welfare in the face of their own financial growth. By forcing her readers to take on the role of an ignorant and irresponsible tourist directly, Kincaid allows her words to create an impact on a personal level, making her reader ponder over the effects of their actions over the inhabitants of previously colonised countries.
Culture and Identity in A Small Place
?From the point of view of a reader, it is clear that Jamaica Kincaid is not satisfied with the way Antigua is now. By comparing pre-colonial Antigua with colonial and post-colonial Antigua, Kincaid creates a novel that is anti-tourist and questions whether the island was better off in pre-colonial times or how it is now. In the first section of the novel, Kincaid describes to the reader the beauty of the island without going into the harsh way that the natives live their lives. She tells this part from the hypothetical view of a tourist, but eventually ends the section by discussing how much she dislikes tourists. The second section describes the old Antigua, while it was in the colonial possession of Great Britain. The third section finds Kincaid questioning whether times were better in the old days or how they are today. The fourth section closes out the book with a comparison of the ‘mixed blessing’ the people on the island are living with: they are surrounded by the immense beauty of a tropical island in the Caribbean, only to find themselves stricken with poverty and unsuitable living conditions. Kincaid’s point of view on culture and history reflect how many Caribbean and Antiguan people feel: that the living conditions they are faced with now are much different from how they used to be.
Kincaid’s view in A Small Place reflects a Caribbean perspective, which is one of disgust towards the Europeans. While they felt as if they were doing the natives a favor by coming in and teaching them their culture, Kincaid believes that the Europeans stripped many Caribbean’s of their culture, including the Antiguans. She believes that the culture of Antigua has been taken away from them, and other Caribbean islanders feel the same way about their land. The culture that they once had and the understanding of the native rituals of their island are long gone, having been replaced by the ideas of the Europeans.
In the first section, Kincaid starts off from the point of view of a tourist, and shows readers how they would view the island. “As you’re plane descends to land, you might say, what a beautiful island Antigua is.”  Kincaid shows from a tourists point of view that the island is extremely beautiful. However, within the beauty of the island is the true life of the natives that live there, and the poverty and poor living conditions that they are faced with. A native sees the island differently because they have to live there and they deal with it everyday, while a tourist comes in and sees the island for the first time. The tourist views the island as a paradise, a type of getaway from the regular troubles of their native land.
“Every native of every place is a potential tourist, and every tourist is a native of somewhere. Every native everywhere lives a life of overwhelming and crushing banality and boredom and desperation and depression, and every deed, good and bad, is an attempt to forget this. Every native would like to find a way out, every native would like a rest, every native would like a tour. But some natives — most natives in the world — cannot go anywhere. They are too poor. They are too poor to go anywhere. They are too poor to escape the reality of their lives; and they are too poor to live properly in the place where they live, which is the very place you, the tourist, want to go — so when the natives see you, the tourist, they envy you, they envy your ability to leave your own banality and boredom, they envy your ability to turn their own banality and boredom into a source of pleasure for yourself.” [18-19]
The reader is able to better understand how the natives life their lives and, from a cultural point of view, can see that the Caribbean way of living is disrespectful of their culture. They live in poverty and their culture has been stripped from them, and they are now forced to live in a world where European influence has taken over.
The second section sees Kincaid going back to the old Antigua, during the colonial possession. She briefly remembers the unquestioning obedience of Antigua to England and their culture. From a cultural point of view, we now see how England stripped Antiguans of their culture and their morals, being able to ‘mold’ them, in a sense, into the people they wanted them to be. This was often the case for many Caribbean countries once they were colonized.
“Do you ever try to understand why people like me cannot get over the past, cannot forgive and cannot forget? There is the Barclay’s Bank. The Barclay brothers are dead. The human beings they traded, the human beings who to them were only commodities, are dead. . . . So do you see the queer thing about people like me? Sometimes we hold your retribution.”
Kincaid accuses the British colonial system of trading humans and turning them into another item instead of an actual human being. Kincaid can’t ‘forgive and forget’ because there is no way to neither forgive nor forget how slavery affected people.
In the third section, Kincaid questions whether things were better in the old days or how they are now. She uses the library as an example of this:
“If you could hear the sound of [the old library’s] quietness . . . , the smell of the sea . . . , the heat of the sun . . . , the beauty of us sitting there like communicants at an altar . . . , the fairy tale of how we met you, your right to do the things you did . . . you would see why my heart would break at the dung heap that now passes for a library in Antigua.”
The library used to be a majestic place where people would enjoy spending their time. However, it is now temporarily located above a dry goods store, while it is awaiting repairs. Members of the Mill Reef Club have funds to help restore the library, but they will only give money if it is completely rebuilt. Kincaid believes that this has more to do with trying to remember the colonial regime than trying to actually help.
In the last section, Kincaid says that the beauty of the island is a ‘mixed blessing’ to the natives, who are surrounded by beauty but trapped in poverty.
“It is as if, then, the beauty—the beauty of the sea, the land, the air, the trees, the market, the people, the sounds they make—were a prison, and as if everything and everybody inside it were locked in and everything and everybody that is not inside it were locked out. And what might it do to ordinary people to live in this way every day? What might it do to them to live in such heightened, intense surroundings every day?”
Kincaid believes that the slaves who were brought to the island were victims and considered them honorable, but their descendants and the people who live in Antigua today are merely simple human beings. Europeans believed that colonizing these countries would give them a sense of hope and open them up to new cultures. However, Kincaid believes that the culture of Antigua was stripped from them with the arrival of the English. From a cultural and historical point of view, the Antiguans culture and sense of history was taken from them. The natives live in a beautiful country but are faced with poverty everyday. From an outsiders point of view, the country is beautiful. However, from someone who is a native to the island, it is a place without culture or beauty.
Analysis of Book “Lucy” by Jamaica Kincaid
The story “Lucy” by Jamaica Kincaid has a lot of similarities with the Hirschberg Text readings. One similarity the texts have is that they both display people struggling to adapt to a new culture. Another similarity between the two is one of the stories which is “Civilize them with a Stick” by Mary Crow Dog and they are similar because the characters in both stories faced adversity when they attended school.Those are some similarities that “Lucy” by Jamaica Kincaid has with the Hirschberg Text readings.
Almost every character struggled to adapt to a new culture. In the story “Individualism as an American Cultural Value” the main character was raised in Thailand and she says almost everything was different in the United States . I think that it is normal for people to struggle to assimilate into a new culture like they did in these stories because they are going into a situation that will almost always be completely different then what they’re used to. Those are the ways the characters in the stories struggled to adapt to a new culture.
In both stories the main characters faced adversity while going to school. In the story “Civilize them with a stick” by Mary Crow it is about a girl who is getting treated unfairly because she is Native American. The main character in “Civilize them with a Stick” even see’s people of lighter skin color get treated better than her. In the story “Lucy” the character Lucy faced adversity in school and did not get support from the people around her to continue her education and she was mistreated by her teachers. In both of these stories the characters were not liked by their teachers and it effected the character’s education and limited them. That is how they are both similar when they faced adversity while going to school.
Most of the stories in text and in “Lucy” the main characters struggled to adapt to new cultures. In the story “Lucy” Lucy struggled to assimilate to the culture when she moved but then she ended up assimilating and it became her new home. In the story “Individualism as an American Cultural Value” by Poranee Natadecha-Sponsel it is about how she was raised in Thailand and it was completely different then the United States even when it came to the small stuff like greetings. I think that it is normal for people to struggle to assimilate into a new culture like they did in these stories because they are going into a situation that will almost always be completely different then what they’re used to. That is how the characters in the stories struggled to adapt to the new cultures they were in.
In conclusion, the Hirschberg Text reading and “Lucy” have a lot of different similarities. Both the texts display the struggles people have to go through to adapt to a new culture. The texts also show the adversity people have to go through because they are different than other people. That is how the “Lucy” by Jamaica Kincaid` is similar the some of the Hirschberg Text readings.
The Darkness Between and Idea and the Reality of the Idea in on Seeing England for the First Time
Kincaid grows up in a place where England colonization had taken place, it’s called Antigua, a small island in the Caribbean. Since this island has been colonized, Kincaid and all the other children are taught all about England, a place they have never seen or been to. At an early age Kincaid started to realize that the English had taken over her culture. After many years the hatred for England accumulated, she had to see the place that had flipped her culture and ideas. In On Seeing England for the First Time, Kincaid argues how the dominating presence of England in her childhood has caused hatred to become deeply rooted inside of her. Kincaid builds this claim by battling between her childhood idea of England versus the reality of England.
She utilizes metaphors in order to encapture her reader and to make them see what she saw. In the first paragraph she uses this metaphor, “England was a special jewel all right and only special people got to wear it” (p.209). It is right here that she sets the tone of the essay for her reader. Since her home was colonized, Kincaid feels as if she can never really fit in. She puts out the idea that some people, mainly herself aren’t special enough to put on this gem of England. The colonizers make Antigues people feel like they were not as good as the English. She allows the reader to place themselves in her shoes and see that when a place is colonized those who were there before get swept away into the assimilation of the new culture. She shows the reader through her eyes what it’s like to be the one that is isolated from being accepted into society. In doing this she makes a social appeal to anyone that has experienced colonization. Kincaid grew up under the rule of the colonizers from the British Empire. The British tried to instill the idea that England was a great and all-powerful nation into the minds of young Antiguans. By using parallelism and more formal diction, the author examines these ideas to explain to the reader what England inculcated in the colonies. An example of the applications of Kincaid’s parallelism would be when she mentions the goods used in the colonies that were all made in England, and how it left the overwhelming knowledge that all that surrounded them was made in England, even to the values instilled in their lives; all but the ocean, the wind, and the air they breathed. It offers readers a sense of what is driving Kincaid to harbor such resentments and contempt towards Britain once it has come to understand that it is true nature.
When Kincaid is discussing her experiences in the classroom the theme of her discontent shines through. At the end of her paragraph Kincaid states “Because no test we would ever take would be complete without this statement: “Draw a map of England.” Seeing this statement at the end of every test is a reminder to Kincaid of the oppression her people have faced as well all things she hates about England. The colonizers forcing the assimilated students into doing this makes them think that they don’t belong in England. She poses the idea that she has been forced to not only memorize the geography and lifestyle of England, but to adore it so much, has imposed on her own ideals, resulting in an identity shaped solely around English expectations. Although Kincaid sees England in the classroom for the first time, English society is all around her, even in her house. Every morning before she leaves for school, Kincaid describes eating ‘a half-grapefruit breakfast, a bowl of porridge oat, bread and butter, a slice of cheese, and a cup of cocoa.’ Even with the food she eats, Kincaid shows how the English lifestyle closely links back to her life. The long summary of her typical morning meal mocks the lavish lifestyle of English and shows that their culture strongly influences her life.
In the second part of the story Kincaid’s language changes, she is speaking with a more intellectual dialect which tells us we are in a different time of her life. We find that Kincaid is older and has had many more experiences which allows for her to look back and reflect on her time in school and compare it to where she is now. While explaining to the reader the difference between idea and reality she writes “when at last I saw it I wanted to take it in my hands and tear it into little pieces and then crumble it up’ (p.217). It is at this point Kincaid starts to explain the meaning of seeing in the first part and the second part of her story. When she was younger she saw only her own idea of England from her colonized classroom which caused built up hatred for England and its culture. Not until she was an adult could Kincaid, filled with a history of resentment and hatred, visit England for the first time, ‘could only indulge in not-favorable opinions.’ Kincaid explains England’s reality based on her own experience there by using personal anecdotes from the time she spent there. She describes the people as being so pale that it ‘made them look so fragile, so weak, so ugly’, and her wish to be able to banish them from their own land and put them in the role of their ancestors and other colonial communities. Kincaid often portrays Britain’s people as arrogant, with their only real common ground being their hatred for immigrants like her; giving the audience a sense of hostility to Kincaid because of where she came from and the connection between her home and England. Kincaid growing up with the idea of hating England has pushed the gap between idea and reality together. Due to the hatred of England that was built from her childhood, Kincaid’s hatred for the idea of England turned into her ultimate feelings of England when she arrives.
Kincaid suggests that England’s powerful influence has played a detrimental role in her life throughout her youth. Kincaid Metaphors are strategically intertwined in order to grab her reader and make them understand what she saw as well as the battle to create this perception of England, how the reality and ideas interact to create this inner hatred. Kincaid’s vision was affected from early on in her childhood, she takes readers on a trip to remind them of England’s ‘reality’ which dominated her lifestyle and inhibited her natural growing culture. When she finally sees how the England influence has affected her she begins to hate anything remotely related to England. She had spent so long as a child filling up the unknown with hatred that when she finally has the opportunity to explore England it hinders her entire experience.
Displeasure Towards England in on Seeing England for the First Time by Jamaica Kincaid
In the essay, On Seeing England for the First Time, Jamaica Kincaid gives off a tone of being conquered, yet resistant to the power of the English. Kincaid attracts the reader by writing about a different array of issues and we are able to see her journey of realization and reflection upon the power she is under. Kincaid describes to the reader her attitude towards England by displaying the effects that colonialism has had on her country and family. Kincaid gives off the effects of the English power by using metaphors, and symbols to show her displeasure towards England.
Kincaid uses metaphors and allusions to attack England’s effect of colonialism on not only the people in her island, but anyone who has been under any type of colonialism. Growing up in Antigua, Kincaid claims that only natural born British are a sort of “special jewel.” Such a jewel was worn by the English as badge of honor, “in jungles, in deserts, on plains, all the oceans… in places they were not welcomed.” However, no jewel for the “brainwashed” people who were colonized by these people. Her teacher then acts as if Britain is Jerusalem as it is a, “place you will go to when you die but only if you have been good.” By referring to the crusades, Kincaid states again how that all the “true” English already get the “privilege” to die there and the colonists must earn the right to be English.
When it comes to style in the essay, Kincaid uses her angry tone to mock and downplay the huge rule of the British. Her hatred is shown when she compares England to a “jail” or oddly enough, “a leg of mutton.” Kincaid starts off the first paragraph introducing her tone that she uses throughout the essay. Kincaid also uses many long-lasting, heartfelt sentences that match the hatred and disgust she has towards England. Kincaid not only describes to us her displeasure of England, but also gets the reader to feel the same hatred that she feels. Her use of sarcasm, such as depicting England as “a special jewel… only special people get to wear…” shows her neglect towards the ‘jewel’ that England is and takes away the “glamour” and “respect” that England gives itself. In Kincaid’s world, England is far a “jewel” and she references small things that support her point of view in order to draw the reader into her world of hatred towards this ruling country that has changed her in ways she never wanted to.
In a way, I can see where Kincaid is coming from. Being a descendent of immigrants in the United States is not something that is taken lightly here. I am looked down upon for the color of my skin, for the language that I speak with to my family, for the way that I live, for where I live. I completely understand Kincaid’s “jewel” reference because at a time, that is what I felt. I imagined the United States being an equal place for everyone and completely loving and accepting everybody for who they were. God was I wrong. Now, I know this country is not entirely like that. There is some good. I have more of a chance to be successful here than in Mexico. I have an opportunity to become equal; but I will never truly be “equal.” I, like Kincaid, saw my country as being amazing, but as I grew older, I learned of all the history, all the turmoil, and all the hatred that is still found today. With Donald Trump being president, it gives me two ways to look at it. One way is that anyone can make it very far. Another way is that a person filled with hatred can still win an election in a time where we see both viewpoints more than ever.
Mother-daughter Relationship in Annie John
The novel, Annie John, by Jamaica Kincaid shows how a young girl’s relationship with her mother changes as she goes through puberty. Annie John, the 12 year old girl, develops mentally and physically, but also starts to become distant from her mother who she has been close with all of her life. The young girl’s disobedient position towards her mother is shown throughout the novel, creating a toxic mother-daughter relationship. When Annie John was a little girl she loved spending time with her mother, but as she grows older she begins to show hatred towards her mom. The relationship between Annie and her mother changes throughout the novel as Annie becomes a rebellious teenager, going against her morals.
Before Annie John reached the stage of puberty, she had a loving relationship with her mother and they spent a lot of their time together. Her and her mother were very close-knit and the two spent their time bathing, shopping, cooking, and more. One day during lunch she looked at her father and didn’t think anything of it, but when she looked at her mother she took a moment and cherished her mother’s beauty, “When my eyes rested on my father I didn’t think very much of the way he looked. But when my eyes rested on my mother, I found her beautiful” (Kincaid 18). She expresses her mother’s features in a loving tone showing how much she truly loved her. Annie had great admiration for her mother and wanted to be exactly like her. Throughout the story, Kincaid shows Annie John following her mother around, admiring her mother’s beauty, and doing exactly as her mother does. Whether it was cooking dinner in the kitchen or watching her mother bathe herself, Annie was always at her side.
As Annie John becomes a teenager she begins to have a toxic relationship with her mother and starts to keep secrets from her, becoming a disobedient child. For example, the following scene shows her going against her morals: “Reaching into my mother’s purse for the odd penny or so was easy enough to do … I hardly asked myself what use the Red Girl could really have for these gifts; I hardly cared that she only glanced at them for a moment and then placed them in the pocket of her dirty dress” (Kincaid 64). Annie John was looking to buy a gift for the girl she liked, but didn’t have the money, so she stole it from her mother. As the novel progresses, Annie John reaches an age where she doesn’t receive as much attention from her mother. Her mother believes that since she is turning into a young woman, she should begin to find her own way of life. This makes Annie John feel betrayed and unloved, and because of this she begins to act very differently towards her mother, stealing and lying to her. She soon begins to hate her mother, sometimes wishing she was dead. The two characters distance themselves from each other, losing the close bond they originally had.
The mother-daughter relationship between Annie and Mrs. John is torn apart as Annie John becomes an unruly adolescent. When Annie John was a little girl her and her mother spent every moment together and had a very strong relationship. By the time Annie John begins to hit puberty they’re relationship becomes tense and they begin to drift. Mother-daughter relationships are tense, and Kincaid shows this through these two characters. The relationship between a mother and a daughter is developed at birth, but Kincaid shows the struggles that many teenage girls and their mothers face when reaching an adolescent stage. At times, the author shows how much Annie John hates her mother and wishes she was dead, but at other times she shows the loving affection between both of them. Annie and her mother may have difficult times throughout the novel, but they both know deep down how much love they have for one another.
Colonial Influence and Cultural Identity in Annie John
Annie John is a novel written by Jamaica Kincaid in 1985. The book is a coming of age story as it depicts the life of a young girl named Annie John as she shifts from her childhood to her adolescence. At first, the book shows the strong bond between a young girl and her mother, but as she searches for her own identity, we see this girl gradually distance herself from her family. As Annie grows she experiences knew facets of her culture through the diverse adventures she partakes in and many friendships she forms. The story centers itself around three main themes: parent-child relationship, feminism and colonial influence on Caribbean culture. Through the analysis of colonial influence on Antigua’s educational and cultural standards in Annie John, we can ask ourselves: How and why is a social group represented in a particular way? In order to answer this question, this text will focus on the depiction of the British by firstly examining the coexistence of the two different nationalities, secondly deconstructing British social expectations and conformity to British standards and lastly studying the colonial history of Antigua.
Firstly, the story depicts the challenges that Annie goes through to find her cultural identity on this culturally diverse island. Although most of Antigua had a predominant creole culture because of its Afro-Antiguans majority, the British still formed a white oligarchy by constituting 1,7 percent of the Antiguan demographic in the 1950s. The Creole culture emerged from the mixing of Amerindian, West African and European cultures during colonization and is still a greatly spread culture throughout the Caribbean region. In the story, we can clearly see a split between two cultures: British culture and Obeah culture. Throughout the story English folks are regarded as more uptight and proper individuals by depicting them as rule enforcers such as the school teacher ““our headmistress (said) that she hoped we had all left our bad ways behind us, that we would be good examples for each other and bring greater credit to our school”. On the other hand, Afro-Antiguans are regarded as more superstitious individuals that consult their spiritual guides (Obeah women) to make decisions, “We took these baths after my mother had consulted with her obeah woman, and with her mother and a trusted friend. And all three of them had confirmed that from the look of things around our house (…) one of the many women my father had loved (…) was trying to harm my mother and me by setting bad spirits on us.”
Secondly, the English school system in which the story is set illustrates the conformism of British culture and suppression of Creole culture. Annie John’s maturing pushes her to reject the oppressive nature of her school system. Therefore, the rejection of British order is exemplified by the judgment she has over her English teacher “I knew right away that she [miss Moore] had come to Antigua from England, for she looked like a prune left out of its jar a long time and she sounded as if she had borrowed her voice from an owl. […] I wondered if she even smelled like a fish.” Not to mention, the loathing sentiment Annie withholds for the codified gender roles that are imposed upon her. Therefore, these social constructs are threats to Annie’s sense of identity, as she has to follow a code that contradicts her very sense of personal freedom and identity. For example, Gwen and Annie’s relationship was frowned upon by the English characters in the story and at the time two girls would be forbidden to have such close relations.
Thirdly, Antigua’s history with colonialism is a central aspect of the book. Although Afro-Antiguans had been liberated from the slavery they had endured for centuries, the colonial culture was still predominant in the educational spheres. Annie John does not adhere to the ideals of colonial history and wants to challenge the order by contesting the actions of colonizers. For example, when Columbus Day rolls around Annie decides to take a stance against this commemoration by blaspheming Christopher Columbus in her history book and consequently gets reprimanded by her principal by having to Annie copy Paradise Lost as punishment, “When I next saw the picture of Columbus sitting there all locked up in his chains, I wrote under it the words: The Great Man Can No longer Just Get Up and Go.” The principal’s choice of the book is important because it serves to symbolize what is to come if Annie does not straighten up her behavior and depicts quite fairly the reality of Antigua when this paradisiac island became a living hell with the arrival of the British and establishment of slavery.
To conclude, it is now clear that British cultural clashes with Annie John’s character development throughout the story. Although Annie rejects the British social standards, these aspects of her environment are constantly evoked by the often criticized English characters in the story. Therefore, Jamaica Kincaid establishes a constant struggle between the coexistence of these cultures and shows the difficulty Annie has to find her own cultural identity.